Creating a generation of knowledge-based business leaders
Mercy Bello Abu, a business/life coach making waves in Port Harcourt, wants Nigeria to adopt a national ideology of entrepreneurship so as to move quickly and rule Africa through business and creativity. The woman who sees herself as a social entrepreneur and motivationist also called for the introduction of compulsory pep talks on entrepreneurship at every public function in Nigeria so as to make the grasp of the subject firm and create a new generation of knowledge-based business leaders.
Abu, former chairperson of the NECA’s Network of Entrepreneurial Women (NNEW) who is seen by most persons as a change agent, thought leader, consultant, trainer and a sought-after clarity coach, is a woman that is passionate about impacting her world positively. The multi-talented entrepreneur says she chose to do a lot of things in order not to waste her God-given talents.
The Edo-born social investor says anybody who stays around the Easterners (Igbo) would develop entrepreneurial instincts and desires; but predominantly, in her career, she trains individual and organisations. Thus, helping individuals leave a lasting legacy is her passion.
In an exclusive interview with BDSUNDAY, Abu taking more women out of ‘shithole’ is her main objective, saying entrepreneurship is best way to empower a woman and give her a say. She does this through awareness creation, entrepreneurship talks, and ceaseless philanthropy.
Few weeks back, Abu unveiled three books on her passion (entrepreneurship), two hardcopy version and one online. In the interview, Abu explained how she birthed three books at same time.
She stated: “That question keeps coming. It is a divine privilege. Since 2015 we started researching on ‘A Toast for Entrepreneurship’ because we wanted to lend our voice on the subject matter as a figure, as someone who started a long time ago. I worked with my editor front and back; but 2020 and Covid-19 came. I said, why, how would we stay at home for five months without doing anything? I said we needed to have a compelling ‘why’. That informed our birthing that book; ‘My Compelling Why’, which is something born out of necessity.
“I discovered that if we have a compelling ‘why’, we would act. Hunger is a good example of a ‘compelling why’. We saw how difficult it was for so many families to feed. We kept receiving calls and calls. Indeed, hunger is a compelling why.’
She added: “Many of us live a life without knowing why. So, we wanted to help people define their lives. The ‘Compelling Why’ compels you because if you know the why, the how becomes easier. It comes automatically when you know why.”
The born-entrepreneur talked about the next book, ‘A Toast for Entrepreneurship’, which she said is the story of my journey of entrepreneurship. “My mom is a born entrepreneur and took us through that journey. So, the book is a celebration of a mother that knew how to add value to people, which is the bedrock of entrepreneurship. You are a solution provider, a giver of value to people.
Abu gave a sterling definition of two topics most persons have difficulty with. “The difference between a business man and an entrepreneur is that a businessman is concerned only about profit through buying and selling. An entrepreneur is also concerned with buying but with adding value, creating innovation that changes the narrative of what business is all about. We wanted to document this angle of discovery.”
That particular book is about her story and what she went through. “It’s about how I started my entrepreneurship right from childhood. It does not take me three months to start a business. I start asking; what can I do.
“Before I went in the university, it was all business. As I was having my babies, I was doing business. I noticed in our neighbourhood about a trader with a lot of customers coming to his shop to buy things. I saw him with phenomenal sales and I wanted to be part of it. I was just out of the university but the man was not so educated. I was not seeing the education but the money. He said ok, you will wake up by 4am and we go to Idumota. I quickly agreed and looked for a shop across the road at Western Avenue.
“By 4am, I would call him, and on we went to Idumota. We would both carry our loads on our heads. That was the man’s level but I did not mind. He had a pharmacy, provision, everything. He was a mentor to me. All I needed to do was to replicate what he was doing on the other side of the express. It work for me. You need a mentor in anything. He knew what was selling and would tell me. You need to create great relationship with people. He showed me the ropes. His customers in the market became my customers. I only replicated what he was doing.”
This is the life Abu led after her graduation that launched her into the entrepreneurial avenue where she the queen today. “As every business came out, we moved on. Nollywood came and we started selling videos. We would buy in Idumota and come to Western Avenue to sell. Next, handsets (GSM) came, ah, I became a distributor. So, this book is where everything is documented.
“Time came for me to leave Lagos to Port Harcourt. In three months, I asked, what do they like here. I saw that women like good things here. So, I opened my first shop and started going to Lagos to buy and sell here.
“I moved to Happy Bite plaza and stayed for 10 years before the fire incident. Everything we worked for was razed down in one day. I learnt every inch of the way to the top. I learnt the dos and don’ts of business. I have worked the ropes. I learnt how to make money and how to lose it all. That is what the book will help you understand.”
Living beyond your grave
On the third book, ‘Building a Lasting Legacy’, which is electronic book (e-book), she said she looked at the spur of seeing so many people die. “It was inspired by the death of Ibukun Ikodaro who died at 39. The nation shook when she died. She was a pastor’s wife. I also had a mentor that died at 45, Bimbo Olukayo. She was a woman that transformed my thinking. It was a mind-blowing experience and it is one of the greatest blessings of my life to encounter her. I was inspired.
“For every time I see what great women do today, one way or the other, they had something to do with Pastor Bimbo. So, for you to keep being relevant long after you are dead, then you are a real personality. People are still referring to her. She lived beyond her grave, beyond her time. She is still very relevant.
“That was what informed ‘Building Lasting Legacy with Clarity’. Clarity is key. People think once you are gone you are gone. No, as long as God created you a masterpiece, it will be an error to waste all that God deposited in you. So, if you want to put your stamp in the future, if you want to live that life that will take you from the ordinary to the extraordinary, seek clarity.
“We have looked at the three books. The journey still continues. It’s about knowing and discovering, getting clarity on your area of core competence. You need to know your ‘what’ and bring it to your ‘why’. You become phenomenal. Whatever you do as a career is your ‘what’ but why you are doing it and what you add to humanity is your ‘why’. It brings compelling ‘why’ to what you do. Identify the difference between your ‘what’ and your ‘why’.
Between Lagos and Port Harcourt
In Lagos, entrepreneurship is now clearly defined, she said. It is now the trending thing. Lagos is a very mobile city you would hardly compare anywhere in Nigeria with. However, Port Harcourt is gradually changing.
“Entrepreneurship has been intriguing to most people in Port Harcourt but grappling with the concept is the issue. If any idea is coming to Nigeria, it gets to the west and trickles down to other regions. Entrepreneurship is spreading because we are constantly creating awareness. We are harping that women have to embrace entrepreneurship. I am seeing it as a way of empowering them because for every time a woman is empowered, you take her out of poverty, you give her a voice.
“A woman takes all the rubbish because there is nothing she can do. If she can pay her bills and support the family, then she has value, she will have a voice. That is why we are so passionate about entrepreneurship. Lagos was capital of Nigeria for many years. They have structures in place. Thank God this region is improving. That’s why we are striving to create awareness in the Niger Delta. Even the government right now is singing it. A lot of intervention funds and survival funds are springing up for SMEs and entrepreneurs.
“What we want is to create awareness so many people can access the SME funds. In Lagos, over 80 per cent will access it but in PH, it will just be about 30 per cent. It may even be when it has almost finished. Covid fund came and Lagos was almost through before Port Harcourt people started caring about it. You need information to get ahead in entrepreneurship. That is why we are trying to build an entrepreneurship awareness base.”
Talking business is now business in the Niger Delta
The awareness level is said to have grown so well that talking about business has become business. “Yes, it is business. We do not have money problem but ideas problem. If you put the structures in place, it will work. Great ideas rule the world. For me, I am into talking business; a consultant, a trainer. If you want me to be your keynote speaker, I tell you my fee to cover my staff, my logistics, my research, etc. Talking business is a beautiful business.
“You need to grow your brand, be visible, and people need to buy into you. People are ordering my books because they have been seeing me. I have been consistent with my message. For people to buy into you, you have to be consistent. Your communication has to be perfect, constantly oil your skills and to remain relevant by upping your game. Personal development is a key for you every time. Be creative. You must find out how to sell, how to package your product. Your prospective buyer may not even care now but you are providing solution. Until you open his eyes to that problem, he does not know it exists. That is where creativity comes in. That is what people are going to pay for.”
Abu said people do not talk for free anymore, even if you are friends. Some say no to free talks because they have to spend to do it well.
She has seen a lot that could have discouraged her. “We need pushful women but the spirit is not there because it is not encouraging. Some of my colleagues have gone back to paid business. The people you target may not appreciate it.
Entrepreneurship Moment as a regular programme at events
The life coach said: “The next level is to persuade every organization and government to introduce short entrepreneurship talk at every event just as we create a moment for prayers. There must be ‘Entrepreneurship Moment’ as a programme as we have safety moment and prayer moment at almost every function. This is how comedy grew in Nigeria. A life coach should come in every occasion with bullet points at every event.
“If entrepreneurship becomes Nigeria’s ideology, the nation will embrace it. Once the business people are not there, the economy begins to dwindle. Every public function, bring in a life coach, an entrepreneurship coach to deliver a moment of entrepreneurship. That is how a new era of entrepreneurship would dawn on us. Soon, organisations will be engaging them.”
Life in the Niger Delta
She thinks she has paid her dues and should be regarded as a strong pillar in the region. “It has been challenging but we have enjoyed our stay here. We seek more enabling and engaging environment especially for the women. The narrative is changing; funds are coming in, and it is getting to that level of acceptance.
“I do not have to come from Rivers State to aspire for greatness. I have been here for almost 15 years and I have been creating awareness in the region. I have contributed my quota in building, creating awareness for entrepreneurship in the Niger Delta. These women coming together do not have to be from Rivers State. I am surrounded by Rivers women. Whatever is due us, let it not be withheld from us. We are people advancing the cause of entrepreneurship. We want to see more women operate there. I have gone round the 23 LGAs in the state. We have worked with widows, etc. I have given more to Rivers State than I ever gave my own state to create entrepreneurial mindset. That is our calling.’
Her non-governmental orgainisation (NGO), the Entrepreneurs Platform Initiative (EPI), is said to be pathfinders in birthing entrepreneurial mindset and structuring a lot of women business, moving them from obscurity to limelight. “That is what we do for a living. This is our area of calling. We have taken a lot of women out of that ‘shithole’ where they struggle too much. Today, they are growing to somewhere. We keep helping women to come to the forefront.”